Longtime Georgia House members facing runoff competition

Georgia's State Capitol.
Georgia's State Capitol.

Two longtime metro Atlanta House Democrats are fighting to keep their seats in next week’s legislative runoff elections.

Between the two women, they have nearly 60 years of experience in the Georgia House. Their challengers say their decades in office have led to complacency.

But state Reps. Michele Henson and Sharon Beasley-Teague both say they have more work to do for their districts.

They are the only incumbents in 16 legislative runoff elections on Tuesday, with most of the other races between candidates seeking to replace a retiring lawmaker or aiming for the nomination to challenge a sitting lawmaker in the opposing political party in November.

Henson, a Stone Mountain Democrat, said this is the first runoff she’s faced in nearly 20 years. She was first elected to her DeKalb County district in 1990. She has owned several small businesses over the years and is currently designing jewelry.

State Rep. Michele Henson, a Democrat from Stone Mountain, is running for re-election in Tuesday's runoffs. She was first elected to the state House in 1990. Submitted photo.
State Rep. Michele Henson, a Democrat from Stone Mountain, is running for re-election in Tuesday's runoffs. She was first elected to the state House in 1990. Submitted photo.

“I think my leadership, my strengths are very, very important as we move forward as a state during these uncertain times,” said Henson, a Boston native who moved to the district in the 1980s. “I have the experience and the relationships, and now more than ever it’s important to keep folks with seniority. We’re losing a lot of people and losing a lot of institutional knowledge.”

Henson is facing Zulma Lopez, an immigration attorney and first-time candidate.

Lopez acknowledged the veteran lawmaker’s longevity in the Legislature but said that doesn’t necessarily equate to leadership.

“I don’t think that argument is that strong when we’re dealing with something that is completely different from anything that’s happened before,” Lopez said.

Zulma Lopez is running in Tuesday's runoffs against state Rep. Michele Henson for a DeKalb County-based seat in the Georgia House. Submitted photo.
Zulma Lopez is running in Tuesday's runoffs against state Rep. Michele Henson for a DeKalb County-based seat in the Georgia House. Submitted photo.

Lopez owns her own law practice and said running a small business has given her the skills needed to tackle state spending issues.

“What the district needs now is someone who is creative, someone who is quick on their feet and someone who has gone through the process of weathering the storm we’re in,” said Lopez, who moved to the district from Puerto Rico in 2007.

Henson received about 41% of the June primary vote, while Lopez finished second with nearly 30% of votes cast. Since no candidate in the four-person primary received a majority of the votes, the runoff is required.

Beasley-Teague said this is the first time she’s faced a runoff challenge for her South Fulton-based seat since she was first elected in 1992. Originally from Indiana, Beasley-Teague — a South Fulton resident — has lived in Fulton County for about 50 years.

State Rep. Sharon Beasley-Teague is facing a challenger in Tuesday's runoffs. She was first elected to the Georgia House in 1992.
State Rep. Sharon Beasley-Teague is facing a challenger in Tuesday's runoffs. She was first elected to the Georgia House in 1992.

Like Henson, Beasley-Teague also said she felt her experience in office was something voters should keep in mind as they cast their ballots.

“You need somebody that knows where to go, who to go to and how to get what people need,” said Beasley-Teague, a retired Lockheed Martin machinist.

Her opponent, Mandisha Thomas, said she would be more impressed if Beasley-Teague’s years in office had resulted in clear guidance for those struggling through the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s a difference between experience and just a whole bunch of years,” said Thomas, who runs a home health care consulting business. “What are you doing in those years?"

Mandisha Thomas faces state Rep. Sharon Beasley-Teague in Tuesday's runoffs. Submitted photo.
Mandisha Thomas faces state Rep. Sharon Beasley-Teague in Tuesday's runoffs. Submitted photo.

A South Fulton resident, Thomas said her job is to create disaster plans for health care businesses, which has prepared her to work on the state’s response to the pandemic.

“So if you are hit with something — a national disaster or outbreak — you have policy and procedures in place. You know what to do,” she said. “If the only thing you’re doing is passing out masks, what good is that?”

Beasley-Teague fell just short of the necessary votes to avoid a runoff, bringing in 49.2% of the primary vote in June. Thomas finished with 36.6% of ballots cast in the three-person race.

There are no Republicans running in either race, so whoever wins Tuesday’s runoff will serve a two-year term.

ExploreVoter guides: Who else is on the ballot Tuesday Aug. 11 in Atlanta